jason stives reviews the first episode of the sixth series of the cult British TV show …
“Don’t play games with me. Don’t ever, ever think you’re capable of that.” — The Doctor
When it comes to television, nothing says water cooler discussion like event television, and what better way to garner that title then to kill a major character off. Normally reserved for action drama like CSI or 24, the premiere of Doctor Who’s sixth series went the event route by killing off its title character …sort of …it’s all wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.
After being teased for weeks about one of the main four characters of the Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy (Karen Gillian), Rory (Arthur Darvill), and River Song (Alex Kingston) possibly biting the dust, the good Doctor was seen in the first 10 minutes to be shot to death by a mysterious figure dressed in an astronaut suit. What looks like lost hope is a red herring, and so begins the viewing of “The Impossible Astronaut,” a kick in the gut of what is surely to be a memorable season of Britain’s favorite science-fiction series.
Leaving no room for air, the show saunters on as we learn that the dead Doctor is a future Doctor who has warned his companions of his impending doom but the Doctor of their timeline is left greatly in the dark. In the midst of this prophecy/cover up, the TARDIS crew is summoned to Washington D.C. in the year of the moon landing, 1969. President Richard Nixon is receiving strange phone calls from a child named Jefferson, telling the commander in chief not to look behind him and that the same spaceman is there for him. With the assistance of Government agent Canton Delaware III (played wonderfully cool by noted sci-fi actor Mark Sheppard), the Doctor and company travel to Cape Canaveral, where the impending trip to the moon is leading them into the grasp of an alien force known only as the Silence.
Matt Smith and company are in top form in this story. Dealing with a very crowded TARDIS, no one’s importance is undermined, each bringing their own element to create the story ark that no doubt each one of these characters will have. Like most reviewers thus far, it’s hard to see a flaw in Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor anymore. Smith has brought almost naturally to the table the most alien Doctor in years. He’s still cheery, amusing and quick-witted, but behind his 908-year-old eyes is a man with a dark dilemma. We have seen this before in the good Doctor, but Matt Smith has taken the goodhearted hero exterior and left the Doctor with too many skeletons in the closet. The way he can go from chirpy and slap stick to downright frightening is a winning quality in Smith, and one that will hopefully pay off as he progresses from season to season.
After being given a heavy dose of importance in Series 5, Amy Pond is given a break from being the center of the universe, but she still faces the fears of motherhood after revealing (to no big surprise) her pregnancy to the Doctor. This poses an interesting storyline point for the rest of the season. Will we see Karen Gillan balloon in some prosthetic stomach like she did in Amy’s Choice, or will the knowledge of her pregnancy be a catalyst in possibly leaving the TARDIS behind at the end of the season?
If she is to leave, then obviously Rory would leave, too, which comes as a disappointment considering his progress. Since the beginning of the fifth season, Arthur Darvill has done a tremendous job of making Rory so likable and not an imitation of Mickey Smith, Rose Tyler’s similar boyfriend from Series 1 and 2. Rory tends to be very brave in dangerous predicaments regardless of his constant groaning and this is shown heavily in this episode with a mix of buffoonery and sharp tongued seriousness.
More importantly for storyline purpose, River Song is finally getting her dues instead of being an enabler to the events of the story. Her speech to Rory about her love of the Doctor and that she thinks that the day he can never recognize will be the day she will just die, ironically spoken and haunting in a stellar performance from Alex Kingston, is absolutely trembling to the bone.
The story itself is paced on a very cinematic level, partially due to the American locale of the story and something of which exceeds in tone and lighting when presented on screen. The Viking funeral presented along the lake in the Utah desert was superbly shot and given a faint glow as the sun set over the mountains on our television screen.
People seem to have a very strong disdain for rehashing familiar elements, something that lead writer and producer Steven Moffat has been laid guilty of doing since he started writing for the show in 2005. However, like most things in science-fiction, if it’s not broke, why fix it? Moffat has proven time and again that he has a strong hold on scare tactics, an awareness of things that could go bump in the night. It’s important to remember that Doctor Who at its core has always been a kid show, dating back to its original 1960s blue print. What may seem unfrightening to some may do exactly the nightmarish job it should through adolescent eyes, and because of those beliefs, we get the Silence, one of the most disturbing creations in the show’s recent memory.
Decked in garish Men In Black-like attire resembling the scream painting but with no mouth, the Silent are menacing at nature, and grotesque in appearance. The fact that they make you forget them when you turn away makes their reappearance all the more startling each time, and the various glimpses of them throughout the episode certainly have cause for jumping back in your seat. It’s very hard to say exactly their purpose, let alone their importance as it’s too early to tell, but needless to say the Silence will surely leave a mark on viewers and remain memorable for quite some time.
This episode proved to be a loaded gun and much props must go to Steven Moffat and his ability to bring together various strands in such a short amount of time. In one episode alone, we establish that the Doctor is going to die, Amy is pregnant, and that the reveal of River Song’s identity is imminent. That’s a lot to fine tune into 43 minutes, but combined with the stellar directing of Toby Haynes and the balanced screen time of all four crucial characters, it succeeds where all others may have failed in a season premiere. While there are still some things that aren’t evidently clear, it’s great to wait with baited breath for the next episode to find out.
One thing that is made perfectly clear is there will be instant ramifications from anything that happens in this season. Finally, it seems, Moffat has created a scenario and a villain that could possibly make the Doctor see his darkest (and maybe final) days. One thing I always complained about during the Tennant-avies era of the show was the Doctor’s perception as all knowing and all powerful. While the Doctor should indeed be perceived as a great force with boundless potential both good and bad, he is not invincible. It seems Moffat has acknowledged this right off the bat this season between the Doctor’s “apparent” death at the hands of the lone Astronaut, as well as the creation of a monster that makes people forget them after they seem them. How badass is that!?
Fan joygasm aside, “The Impossible Astronaut” was a harrowing start to the show’s sixth season/series. The threads are already coming together in just one episode, and with the extended break in between the first and second half of the season, there will be much to talk about as the season heads down, what I believe to be, some very dark corridors and some of the most shocking twists in the show’s already extensive history.
Rating: 8 out of 10
All Photos Credit: BBC America